Modest Delbert McClinton is Tall Dark and Handsome

From his early years playing in the Straightjackets and sharing the stage with such luminaries as Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf, Delbert McClinton has been steeped in blues, jazz, country, soul and rock. He has written songs that have been covered by such artists as Etta James, Emmylou Harris and the Blues Brothers; he has duetted with Bonnie Raitt and Tanya Tucker as well as releasing twenty-six albums by my count, including the brilliantly named, brilliant last album, Prick Of The Litter. That is a CV to admire and also bodes well for his latest album called quite modestly, Tall, Dark and Handsome. Well, as average height, bald and, once upon a time, moderately attractive man, I can say that the title doesn’t fit me but Delbert has once again put together a set of fourteen irresistible genre mixed songs of his own or co-written compositions. The CD is billed as Delbert McClinton and Self-Made Men and Dana, thus paying due deference to the powerhouse band that have contributed in a big way to each track.

The opening track, Mr Smith, kicks off literally with a raucous snare drum intro before the jump blues a la Big Joe Turner get into the swing. It is so evocative of the era with horns, piano and Delbert’s clear and bluesy, soulful vocals. The sax and trumpet solos are suitably loose and in keeping with the style. More my cup of wine is the swampy blues of If I Hock My Guitar…this one has a touch of the Chuck about it and, although it follows a familiar pattern, it has an irresistible quality that draws you in…the guitar sounds just great.  Next track, No Chicken On The Bone, conjures up the genius that was Django Rheinhart or perhaps the lesser-known but equally brilliant Marcel Dadi with the fiddle adding to the country jazz feeling and it just pulls you along with its bounce and the acoustic guitar and piano keeping the backing complex but right. Let’s Get Down Like We Used To slow the pace to bring a southern bluesy feel as the sparse guitar chords manage to speak volumes and illuminate the vocals…I’d sooner have has a guitar solo in the middle but that’s probably just me! We travel even further south as the Latin flavours of Gone To Mexico in a tango tempo. It has a catchy feel that, even though I don’t normally listen to this kind of stuff, it is still impossible not to join in. A jazz lounge with a tinge of the Mose Allison approach as Delbert does a corking job on the vocals on Lulu. It is lifted even higher by the subtle, laid back brilliant and too short guitar solo. Loud Mouth may be about giving advice to a friend (“you’re not really a fool; you just act like one”) but the guitar and the piano make this a fabulous piece of blues come R’n’B. A classic blues feel resonates throughout the shuffle of Down In The Mouth as he explains “why I got the blues”. Yes, it is built on familiar tropes but the guitar is, at last, given room to shine and the picking is exquisite…still too short though. Although Ruby And Jules is a modern take on star-crossed lovers, it has a brilliant play on the Pink Panther theme running behind it. As Delbert’s says, it has “this ‘Pink Panther’ vibe to it. I wanted it to sound like that theme music”. That may sound daft, but t works a treat. The next destination is the jazz of Any Other Way, with smooth guitar and brushed drums backing a superb vocal line to infuse some blues into a languid and enthralling song…especially if you listen carefully to that guitar backing. No surprise when I say that I’d sooner have has a guitar solo rather than sax, but it still works. A Fool Like Me again repays close listening as the slide guitar behind the horns and vocals is very, very clever as are the snare drum patterns. The whole thing has a New Orleans blues sound to it and is another one to file under ‘irresistible’. Next is Can’t Get Up which is a neat shuffle with the drums and bass taking, for me, a starring role as Delbert reveals some of his life story…”I boogied with best”. Lyrically, the last two tracks, move into very dark territory as Delbert reveals the problems he has encountered. The first is Temporarily Insane and is purposely dissonant as the rain in the background has a simple chord picking progression behind his heartfelt vocals. This is slightly uncomfortable if you take the lyrics on their own…but as a composition it is quite simply magnificent and captivating. The final track, A Poem, lasts less only a minute, and yet the buzzing fly effect heralds a delta blues that is sheer perfection. The guitar again is purposely dissonant and hesitant and it could occupy the whole album for me with its craft and execution.

So, if you want a varied, imaginative and supremely crafted mix of blues, soul and R’n’B then look no further than this. It may have a couple of less immediate songs, but Delbert manages to include and convey effectively almost every known emotion in his music. He can also be very therapeutic as his music draws you in and, if you ever have a bad day, listen to Temporarily Insane and you will understand that it is only temporary, if you make it so. Twenty-six and counting and yet another quality entry into the McClinton canon.

NINEpawprint half inchdoodle paws out of TEN …

Track listing:/

  1. Mr Smith
  2. If I Hock My Guitar
  3. No Chicken On The Bone
  4. Let’s Get Down Like We Used To
  5. Gone Mexico
  6. Lulu
  7. Loud Mouth
  8. Down In The Mouth
  9. Ruby & Jules
  10. Any Other Way
  11. A Fool Like Me
  12. Can’t Get Up
  13. Temporarily Insane
  14. A Poem


Delbert McClinton – Vocals

The Self-Made Men + Dana are:-

Dana Robins – Saxophone

Mike Joyce – Bass

Jack Bruno – Drums

Bob Britt – Guitar

James Pennebaker – Guitar

Kevin McKendree – Piano and B3

Quentin Ware – Trumpet

Dennis Wage – Keyboards

LabelHot Shots Records

Recorded at: Rock House, Franklin, Tennessee

One thought on “Modest Delbert McClinton is Tall Dark and Handsome

  • 19th August 2019 at 7:19 pm

    Lovin this album, great review. Just one side note you missed Kevin McKendree – Piano and B3


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